MONEY

Who Knew Coupons Were So Lucrative?

Coupons don't sound like an exciting business. But coupons.com is getting another look, hitting the $1 billion valuation mark this summer.
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Steven R. Boal is president and CEO of coupons.com, which had raised money only from individuals until June 2011. Then, it raised $200 million from institutional investors at a valuation of $1 billion. Inc staff writer Jeremy Quittner spoke with Boal about his company's valuation, attracting employees, and what he's learned from Dilbert.

From the day we founded the company in May 1998, we have done one thing. We have taken an offline business and moved it into modern times. We are a very atypical Silicon Valley company, because we spent the first many years of life with our heads down. We are non-venture and non-private equity funded.

The fact that Coupons.com was in the news when it raised $200 million last year is quite a change. I think that was the fist time anyone declared publicly what they thought of us and our valuation. As a private company, we've had the luxury of not telling anyone, and we would still rather not tell anyone.

After we took this money the velocity of inbound resumes picked up. Before, we were a heads-down Silicon Valley company, competing against well-known brands. With a name like Coupons.com, it was hard to attract employees.

It does not feel any different. We raised a bunch of money and people started to acknowledge our potential market value. We stopped wearing suits and agreed to start wearing jeans. I am standing here at my desk in my jeans.

It is not so much that it is a billion dollar enterprise that is exciting to me. Over a long period of time, we have been able to really have a transformative effect on an industry that touches everyone. We make a change to the way coupons are offered to consumers, and all of a sudden not only does the processing rate go up, but the redemption rates go up. The most rewarding thing is that we save consumers an awful lot of money.

Staying small while growing big

Companies go through evolutionary steps from a three-person startup to 50, to 100 people, to 500. We have grown really fast, and we have processes in place we did not have before. But we are in danger of not being as nimble as we used to be. It is a lot of work to go through this organization and to make sure every department is communicating and that our clients have a loud echoing voice inside our company. We are not a process-driven culture.

There's this picture of large companies from the Dilbert cartoons. You have to make sure there is an air of intimacy and that you have cross-team collaboration and people feel like it is a family.

Today, if you were here in person, you'd see we have eight food trucks outside our buildings, and picnic tables, and people are sitting with different parts of the company and with different teams. We work hard to foster cross-collaboration. We are in six buildings now, and with regional offices and an office in the UK, we have to work really hard to make sure we don’t lose the nimble company culture.

"Big companies fundamentally don't like small companies."

We spent 13 years building a reputation, and one thing you would agree with, and we know, is that big companies fundamentally don’t like small companies, and don't trust them. Now our clients are the biggest brands in the world, like Kraft Foods and General Mills. It takes a long time to build a reputation as a small company.

The morning after you close a round, you look in the mirror and you are no different than you were the day before. If you change your game you will lose the thing that got you to where you are. That was the case in the all-hands meeting right after our billion dollar valuation. It was, "Congratulations everyone, now we have to do the exact same things we've been doing to get to the next step."

I think a $100 billion valuation is absolutely the goal. When I set out to build the company, my goal was to shift 20 percent of the offline business to our platform. Now I want it to be 100 percent.

IMAGE: Scott Olson/Getty
Last updated: Jan 4, 2013

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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